Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 235 - 13 Facts-are-Stranger-Than-Fiction Things About the Halifax Explosion as Told by Guest Author Jennie Marsland

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For this week's Thursday Thirteen,

I'm handing the mic over to my fellow Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada author Jennie Marsland.

Welcome, Jennie!

Julia, it’s great to be here today.

As a fellow history buff, you know I love chatting about the real event that serves as a backdrop for the love story in Shattered, my latest release, set in 1917 in our hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Great War era fascinates me, because of the scale of the conflict and the dizzying pace of change that went with it – which is also a novelist’s dream.

Between 1914 and 1918, the Victorian way of life was swept away by new technologies, morals and manners. Women got the vote and entered the work world in droves. Cars, electricity and telephones became commonplace. The generation that fought in the Great War experienced the Great Depression and sent their sons to World War 2. They grew up with horses and buggies and lived to see men walk on the moon. I can’t help but admire them.

So, I’ve written a story about two people struggling to find their place in the face of all this change – and ultimately, disaster.

I’ll give you the cover blurb of Shattered for details:

Liam Cochrane no longer belongs. He lost his youth and his brother on the battlefields of Europe. Now he’s home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, trying to dull his pain with liquor and the occasional willing woman. He’s become a stranger in the North End neighbourhood where he grew up.

Alice O’Neill has never belonged. Able to read music, but not words, she dreams of teaching piano – and of Liam, who has held her heart for years and never known. But Liam has shadowy ties in England that he’s revealed to no one, and in that fall of 1917, Halifax is on a collision course with fate. On December 6, a horrific accident of war will devastate the city’s North End. What will be left for Liam and Alice when their world is shattered?

That ‘accident of war’ was the Halifax Explosion of 1917, an event that changed the face of the city forever. For Thursday Thirteen, here are the facts of what occurred on the fine morning of December 6, as Halifax geared up for another busy wartime day.

1 -In Halifax in the fall of 1917, you could get a dinner of roast chicken with steamed potatoes and creamed carrots, followed by a choice of desserts – apple pie, custard, tapioca and other sweets – for 25 cents. A new business suit cost $18 to $35.

2 -The reason for Halifax’s existence is its harbour, one of the largest and deepest in the world. As an added bonus, the harbour proper is connected by a narrow channel (The Narrows) to an inner harbour (Bedford Basin) that can’t be seen from the open ocean. This made the city strategically vital as a shipping point for troops and supplies during both World Wars.

3 -14 harbour pilots and 8 apprentices were handling a shipping volume of 17 million tonnes a year at the time of the explosion. Traffic on the Harbour had never been so frantic.

Those working on the water knew an accident was inevitable, but everyone was more concerned about the possibility of enemy attack. In 1917 aerial warfare was in its infancy, and no one could be certain that Germany hadn’t secretly developed planes that could fly across the Atlantic or take off from the decks of ships to bomb North America. Submarine attack was an even more real possibility. The entrance to the Harbour was closed with nets from dusk to dawn, meaning all traffic had to come and go during daylight hours, increasing the congestion.

4 -The Explosion occurred when the French vessel Mont Blanc, loaded with picric acid, TNT, benzol and gun cotton, collided with Imo, a Belgian relief vessel, in The Narrows. Fuel drums on Mont Blanc’s deck caught fire, turning the ship into a floating bomb that drifted into Pier 6 in the city’s North End and detonated, destroying the community of Richmond and killing over 2000.

5 - The Halifax Explosion is still the largest non-atomic, non-natural explosion in recorded history. It was used as a case study in predicting the effect of the atomic bomb.

6 -A half-ton piece of the anchor from Mont Blanc landed over 2 miles away from where she exploded.

7 -A huge tidal wave followed the blast. Sixty-four workmen at a pier were killed by a boulder believed to have come from the bottom of the Harbour. Ships touched bottom as the wave swept outward to shore.

8 -One sailor was swept off the deck of his ship by the wave, then dumped on the deck again in the backlash. He survived.

9 -Another sailor was blown half a mile from the deck of his ship to Needham Hill. He was picked up later, semi-conscious, wearing one shoe but not a stitch of clothing, battered but with no grave injuries.

10 -300 train cars and 20 locomotives were destroyed at the rail yard and the North Street train station.

11 -Halifax’s first motorized fire truck, the Patricia, responded to the fire on Mont Blanc and was destroyed at the waterfront along with the fire chief’s car. All in both vehicles were killed.

12 -After the Explosion, while everything possible was being done for the human victims, a committee was also formed to rescue injured and homeless animals. Horses, of course, were still very important in 1917, and many were killed or hurt.

13 -The youngest victim of the explosion was six days old.


Alice Audrey said...

You picked a fascinating time for the setting, one that isn't over used.

Jennie Marsland said...

Thank you, Audrey. I think that perhaps, with the hundredth anniversary of events like the sinking if the Titanic, the beginning of the Great War and the Halifax Explosion coming around, we might see more fiction set in the early twentieth century. I certainly hope so.

Renee Field said...

Great blog. I had no idea the first fire truck was used during the explosion. Love this book.

Tara MacQueen said...

There's facts that I didn't know on this blog about the Explosion. Looking forward to Sunday!

Bev Pettersen said...

Really interesting stuff, Jennie. I really enjoyed the setting of your book.

Anne MacFarlane said...

I enjoy reading stories set during the early 1900's. My grandmother, who lived to be 100 yrs old, was a girl at the time and shared her memories with us. I wish I'd paid more attention to her stories - or wrote them down.

Jennie Marsland said...

Thanks for dropping by, floks. I'm looking forward to Sunday's signing at the Maritime Museum too!

Lady Rose said...

very interesting
and happy tt!

Jennie Marsland said...

Hello Rose, thank for dropping by!

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Alice - I hope that this time period shows up more often in fiction.

Jennie - I still can't get over the guy who lost all of his clothes except for the one shoe - and survived!

Renee - Too bad the first fire truck had to answer such a catastrophic call.

Tara - I know! Feels weird not to know these things.

Bev - I hope we see more Halifax or Maritime-set stories in the future.

Anne - How can you know that you're going to want that sort of information when you're young?

Lady Rose - Happy TT!

Alice Audrey said...

99 cents! I got a copy. Saint Sanguinus, though. Wish it wasn't ink kindel, though. I like like to have my copy on my own hard drive so I know it won't get taken out from under me.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

((hug)) SO excited that you've got it! I hope it doesn't get yanked from you, either. :-( Has that happened to you before?

Deborah Hale said...

Great Thursday Thirteen, Jennie! My grandmother's brother, aunt and uncle were all living in Halifax at the time of the explosion. All three survived but there are lots of family stories about their experiences. It was very nerve-wracking for the family in New Brunswick until they got word.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Wow, Deb - had no idea. My two grandparents' families were at either end of the province when it happened, so no personal stories for us.